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AIA to Launch New Diversity Initiative

New York-based architect Terrence O’Neal, AIA, has a successful practice, an office overlooking Union Square, and many friends in the business. But he thinks something is very wrong with the profession he loves.

“In terms of diversity, the AIA is about 20 years behind the curve,” says O’Neal, who contributed to a resolution, proposed in June and ratified by the AIA board in September, to help improve poor diversity figures in the notoriously homogenous profession.

The resolution takes a step beyond traditional measures like scholarships, internships and conferences, resorting instead to number crunching. The AIA (with the help of a consultant) hopes to obtain much-needed figures about minority and female access to the profession, helping paint a clearer picture of why so few of these groups enter and stay in architecture, also laying the groundwork for future changes.


“We need to find out what these problems are,” says Elisabeth Casqueiro, Managing Director of Alliances at the AIA, who points to low salaries and long-standing biases as reasons for architecture’s diversity gap , but concedes causes for the issue remain largely a mystery. Outside of cursory data obtained from its Firm Survey- which shows 1% minority membership and 11% female membership- the AIA’s knowledge about minority representation is “remarkably scarce,” according to the resolution, and to several AIA officials, while “the data we have is disconnected and incomplete,” says Ted Landsmark, AIA, head of the AIA Diversity Committee. Meanwhile long-used methods like scholarships seem to have made little headway in reversing the situation, which is very similar to what it was 30 years ago.

The chosen firm will also carry out focus groups to supplement hard numbers with stories, it will explore models in other professions like law and medicine, and compare data with architectural organizations such as the American Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), the National Collegiate Accreditation Board (NCARB), the National Accrediation board (NAB), and the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). Officials say up to $200,000 could be slated for the project.

Sam Lubell